UN aims to cut toll of world's 500,000 women who die in childbirth each year

UN aims to cut toll of world's 500,000 women who die in childbirth each year

Indian woman having prenatal checkup
With at least one woman in developing countries dying in childbirth every minute - more than half a million annually - the United Nations health agency today launched a drive to prevent these deaths by training health workers.

The campaign by the World Health Organization (WHO) includes the distribution of Beyond the Numbers - Reviewing Maternal Deaths and Complications to Make Pregnancy Safer, a manual for health planners and providers. The $10 million project also involves training decision-makers, national health planners and medical service providers in high-priority countries.

The initiative is being carried out in collaboration with more than 20 regional and international agencies, including the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank.

They are fighting what is widely viewed as an "invisible epidemic" in poor countries, where the risk of dying in childbirth is over 100 times higher than in rich nations. WHO says these figures do not tell the whole story because as many as half of all maternal deaths go unreported. Over 60 States don't even track statistics on the problem.

"If dead women are not even counted, then it seems they do not count," Joy Phumaphi, WHO's Assistant Director-General on Family and Community Health, said at a meeting today in Nairobi.

The manual delves into the question of why women die from complications related to childbirth, and spells out how to avoid them through methods which can be used in even the poorest settings.

The main causes of maternal deaths are well-known: haemorrhage, infection, hypertensive disorders, obstructed labour and unsafe abortion. But WHO and its partners are trying to remind the world that the crisis continues because care for pregnant women is either unavailable, inaccessible, or inadequate.

The effects are tragically amplified, with an estimated 1 million children left motherless each year. Those youngsters are 10 times more likely to die in childhood than others whose mothers are alive, according to WHO.